"New Dictionary of Biblical Theology" Edited by T. Desmond Alexander and Brian S. Rosner

Wednesday, June 6th 2007
Jul/Aug 2002

This ambitious work is organized in three parts. Part One is composed of twelve major articles that "are intended to provide the reader with a clear statement of the basis upon which the rest of the Dictionary is built." Part Two opens with seven articles "on the most important biblical corpora" and then proceeds to survey the theology of the Bible's individual books. Part Three focuses on topics, such as Abraham, Adoption, Evil, Exodus, God, Law, Sacrifice, and Word-that the editors take to be "of central importance for an understanding of the unity of the biblical corpus." This dictionary holds to a high view of Scripture. The list of contributors is impressive and generally represents the more conservative wing of biblical scholarship.

The articles in the first part are conceptual, historical, and thematic. They range from an introductory piece through surveys of biblical theology's history as well as of the challenges made to it. These articles explore the canon, concept, and plot line of Scripture, as well as consider its unity and diversity and the relationship between the two Testaments. They close with a piece on how preaching and biblical theology relate. Articles such as Brian Rosner's "Biblical Theology," Kevin Vanhoozer's "Exegesis and Hermeneutics," and D. A. Carson's "Systematic Theology and Biblical Theology" are repetitious and overlap because their authors find it necessary to distinguish biblical theology from exegesis and systematic theology, for example. Nevertheless, Rosner's piece includes a worthwhile section on why traditional "word studies" are inadequate basis for doing theology; Vanhoozer's survey of recent developments in hermeneutics turns into a masterful defense of why we must read Scripture as God's one Word; and Carson's attempt to discriminate between biblical and systematic theology furnishes us with what are undoubtedly the best characterizations of each, such as systematic theology ordered as topically, logically, hierarchically, and synchronically as possible while biblical theology traces out the history of Redemption and is as inductive, comparative, and diachronic as possible. Among other things, this means that biblical theology is a "mediating discipline" while systematic theology is a "culminating" one.

The articles on the biblical corpora in Part Two are written by acknowledged authorities such as Darrell Bock on Luke to Acts; D. A. Carson on the Johannine writings; and Douglas Moo on Paul. Yet, they are so brief that they risk being superficial. The articles on individual biblical books, often by the same experts, are slightly better.

Topics in the third part are treated in not especially satisfying ways. In part, this is because they are quite brief. Also, in some cases they do not take account of all that Scripture says. For instance, the article on hatred, in maintaining that human hatred is wrong, does not consider that David pleads his bona fides before God by stating that he hates all of those who hate God (see Ps. 139:21-24).

Perhaps this book's ambitiousness is really its downfall. By trying to both define and defend biblical theology, to summarize the particular theologies of all the biblical books, and also to survey the major theological themes of the Bible, its editors have attempted too much. In addition, many articles lack the crispness and punch that really good editing can produce. This is a worthwhile reference work but could have been a much stronger one.

Wednesday, June 6th 2007

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

Picture of J. Ligon Duncan, IIIJ. Ligon Duncan, IIISenior Minister, First Presbyterian Church
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